On 14th February 1951, John S.16731757_1611340412215720_1867998541_o Valentine, a New York greetings card magnate, decided that in order to commemorate his recent divorce he would release a line of cards lauding love and lust. These proved to be intensely popular, so popular in fact that a national romantic frenzy was ignited. Fearing for the moral health of America for the third time already that week, a conference of church leaders attempted to restore some decorum to the situation. They declared that in fact 14th February had always been Valentine’s Day, remembering St Valentine who presumably died in some love-related manner. Contagious as it was corny, the tradition of exchanging cards on Valentine’s Day spread across the Atlantic and embedded itself in British culture, even affecting the Hallowed Varsity:

One is increasingly perturbed by the growing throngs of undergraduates expressing their undying love and devotion for one another every year a. d. XV Kal. Mart. [14th Feb., ed.] This tradition – imported from the New World – is particularly distressing given the lack of female undergraduates and the consequently Sodomitic nature of the whole affair. (excerpt from an official report into the hysteria by the Governing Body of Oriel College, c. 1983)

Just as the churchmen of the United States had been keen to legitimise the de facto state of sin, by now irreparable, with the invention of Saint Valentine, there were calls from the more conservative twelve-eighths of the University’s fellowship that more appropriately traditional romantic customs should be encouraged, ‘in order that the unique identity of Oxford is not irretrievably muddied in the mire of modernity’ (Sir Nigel Trump, KG, Chancellor, 1782-1974).

It was decided that a qualification for passing the Preliminary Examination – which had recently been liberalised so as to make the Greek Composition Paper optional for the natural and experimental Sciences – should be the proper engagement with and a demonstrated love for ‘Oxford Values’. This scheme reflected the Government policy of the day to prevent excess foreignification – the Establishment by now horrified at how long Britannia had maintained her friendship with the Jacobin Gaul – and, crucially, demonstrated the success and viability of the Government’s long-term economic plan.

Many of these traditions have survived to the present day and are now part of what makes Oxford so special. A common display of affection, for example, is the gift of a dead pigeon left in one’s beloved’s pidge – revealing the origin of the name. Interestingly the ancient Celtic god of Love visited couples in the form of a pigeon to inflict venereal diseases – a precursor to the modern tale of the stork which delivers babies, perhaps? More benign traditions include having sex in sub fusc. In years gone by the whole outfit would have been worn – the lady’s ribbon providing an exciting prop – but regrettably many in the modern day can only be bothered with the gown itself. The most famous (and controversial) custom is derived from the example of femme fatale Ophelia (W. Shakespeare, Royal Shakespeare Company) and involves forcibly submerging your partner in either the Isis or the Cherwell. If they survive, they have been unfaithful; if they drown, it is true love.

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This article has 1 comment

  1. Why is VERSA now really boring? Do the editors not realise that it isn’t supposed to be a serious publication?

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